Humboldt County to allow cannabis farm ‘hoop houses’ in flood hazard areas

Garberville cannabis farmer and Palo Verde Ranch owner Mark Switzer stands in empty hoop house structures used to cultivate cannabis in late 2017. The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to allow cannabis farmers to construct temporary hoop houses in flood hazard areas. – Myles Moscato — contributed

Humboldt County will now allow cannabis producers to temporarily put up “hoop houses” in flood hazard areas, a move county staff say will address the permitting backlog and make the industry more competitive.

Under the previous county rules, structures like hoop houses had to be anchored to the ground with foundation, be elevated above the base flood elevation and must have flood resistive materials. The changes adopted Tuesday would allow farmers to construct temporary hoop houses for up to 180 days between April 16 and Oct. 15. The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors adopted the change in a unanimous vote Tuesday. Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson was absent.

“That would accommodate the need out there that has been expressed by some of these cannabis cultivators,” Supervising Planner Michael Richardson said to the board. “What’s happening now is that instead of building these temporary structures, they’re building more permanent structures that meet all of the requirements and that has been, kind of, a waste of everybody’s time. … I think this change will make the industry more efficient.”

The county staff report says that hoop houses are often used because they are cost-effective for producing cannabis and therefore make them more competitive in the statewide market.

Hoop houses are often removed anyway during the winter months to prevent damage, according to the county. First District Supervisor Rex Bohn said by comparison, permanent structures have the potential of being washed away in a flood and polluting the water.

“So I think the whole idea of this is to alleviate a problem of downstream waste during high waters,” Bohn said.

Second District Estelle Fennell said there is a famous area along the Eel River where remains of a greenhouse float along the edge of the river. She said she wanted to ensure that cultivators be held accountable for whether or not they remove their hoop houses. Board Chairman and 5th District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg questioned whether the county could use its new satellite imagery capabilities during the latter part of the year to check whether farmers are complying. Planning and Building Department Director John Ford said that is a possibility, as is requiring the cultivator to submit evidence such as a photo that the structure was removed.

“And that could be done by email so we wouldn’t have to go out to the site,” Ford said.

Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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